Pullman police say they will recommend an assault charge against Washington State football player Shalom Luani, even as coach Mike Leach disputes media accounts of Luani’s arrest.
Luani, 22, was arrested and then released Aug. 24 after he was accused of punching a WSU student in an altercation outside a Domino’s Pizza. Police said Luani became agitated when his pizza order took too long and that he went outside after an initial altercation when some patrons and the store manager tried to calm him down.
But Leach was quick to question that narrative. The day after the incident, he told The Spokesman-Review, “The initial fact-finding sounds like he got jumped by three people, but we’ll wait until it unfolds.”
And on Monday, Leach said in a press conference, “I’m very disappointed that the court of public opinion has been tainted and contaminated the way it has.”
Leach has repeatedly declined to elaborate on those statements. And he has not shared any details he might have gleaned from talking to police about the incident.
Luani, a starting free safety, practiced Tuesday, the first time since his arrest. He did not play in the season opener against Eastern Washington. But Leach said Luani will play in the Cougars’ game Saturday at Boise State.
He also stopped short of saying Luani was suspended from the field: “… suffice to say I’m comfortable with any punishment we’ve issued and don’t plan to issue any more.”
Police initially planned to charge Luani with second-degree assault, a felony, but no charges have been forwarded to the Whitman County Prosecutor’s Office.
Pullman police Cmdr. Chris Tennant said detectives still are interviewing witnesses and expect to complete their investigation next week. Until then, the department won’t release records related to the incident, he said.
Luani reportedly told police he was “jumped for no reason” by seven or eight individuals, but Tennant said that doesn’t match what anyone else relayed to detectives.
Tennant said security footage provided by Domino’s shows what happened in front of the pizza counter but not outside the building.
STILL DOWN A SAFETY
Even with Luani back, the Cougars will still be down a safety until halftime against Boise State. Robert Taylor was ejected for targeting in the third quarter of the Eastern game, meaning he will sit out the first half to satisfy NCAA rules.
Defensive coordinator Alex Grinch refused to attribute the poor performance of his unit to the safeties’ absence.
“We’ve got to play with whoever’s out there,” he said. “The guys we put on the field are expected to perform at a high level. I didn’t do a very good job last week of getting our guys prepared. We’ll crank up Shalom this week and be excited to have him.”
HE WHO HESITATES
Leach suggested the Cougars’ problems Saturday night, which included 12 penalties for 101 yards, could have stemmed from a certain tenuousness related to the higher expectations they inspired by their 9-4 record last year.
“If you were to summarize it in one word,” he said of the Cougars’ performance before a sellout home crowd, “it would be hesitation. I think we were hesitant on defense. I think we came out of it on offense.
“All teams have a tendency to (be hesitant) early in the season,” he said, “but I thought they (the Eagles) did a really good job of not (being hesitant). I’ve been on both sides of this. They come by it honestly, from the standpoint that they’re not operating under the same expectations we are. That’s no excuse for us. I mean, we have to have the discipline just to focus and play our game.”
NO FAN OF SMURF TURF
Leach spoke laudingly of Boise State’s football program and history but was less complimentary of the famously blue turf at Albertsons Stadium.
“I’m glad I don’t have to watch film on it every day, to be honest with you,” he said. “I think that secretly those assistant coaches and those coaches at Boise, despite the fact that it’s a trademark thing, would rather watch their guys practice on grass, so there’s a little more contrast with them running around on the blue turf.”
Leach also alluded to rumors that the “Smurf Turf” is hazardous to birds.
“I’m not sure about it, but I think we ought to look into that,” he said. “I think the animal watch group and whatnot need to make sure they keep that thing covered so ducks don’t break their necks trying to land on the sucker. That’s what I think.”
There are apparently no confirmed reports of that happening. The Oregon Ducks, however, lost at Boise State in 2009.